Life Lessons From The Tahoe Rim Trail

Tahoe Rim Trail

After harrowing adventures while hiking the Highline, we questioned whether this year’s conscious choices to be healthier and simplify our lives were really worthwhile, at least with respect to outdoor recreation. We came close to hanging up our backpacks and hiding indoors for the forseeable future.

But the call of the wild is loud and persistent, and we had fabulous memories of Havasupai and Prescott urging us forward, so we chose to not only continue, but to up the ante with 10 days on the 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. It was a great decision!

We learned a lot out there, and this was one of those trips where what happens out there should NOT stay out there. Here are some lessons we brought home with us:

A Good Map Makes Life Better

Blue BlazesLast time, we got lost. So this time, we had a plan, a plan B, an atlas, and an app.*

The trail was well-marked, and when we had questions we used GPS with our atlas and our app to verify the proper path. They both showed water sources and campsites in addition to the trail.

Wandering through life without a plan or a map makes it tough to get where you want to go. Take the time to do your research. Know what you’ll do if you take a wrong turn or meet resistance. Feel free to be flexible, yet always have a backup plan and an exit strategy.

Being prepared makes you more confident and makes the journey more fun.

The World Won’t End If You Turn Off Your Phone

Lake AlohaWhen was the last time you spent a day without your phone? I left mine behind for All. Ten. Days.** It was hard at first and I even felt the phantom buzz of a notification that didn’t exist. I wondered what friends were doing on Facebook and Twitter. But by the end of the trip, I didn’t miss it anymore. In fact, when I did have it again I didn’t even turn it on for a few hours.

And guess what? The world didn’t stop turning. There were no crises that only I could fix. My emails were set on auto-reply and everything was fine. The urgent yet unimportant fluff took care of itself. Now, after taking a few days to address hundreds of backlogged emails, I’m finally back to Inbox Zero and am ready to detach from my phone again–life is better without it.

Turning off technology allows you to live more in the moment, to pay attention to your surroundings, and to let your mind focus where it wants, not where ads and media want you to focus. You will feel more grounded and more like yourself.

Don’t just take my word for it–try it!

All Resources Are Precious

Resting and HydratingOur 20-lb backpacks were all we had. There was no Amazon Prime, no room service, and no running water. If we were thirsty, we found a lake or a stream and filtered enough to fill our reusable bottles. If we were hungry, we ate dehydrated fruit or cooked dehydrated rice and chicken with our precious water. We had plenty, but if we overindulged, we would be out of luck until we found another lake or hiked to a resupply point.

We also brought just enough toothpaste, sunscreen, and toilet paper to last for the length of our trip. We could have carelessly blown through it all in one day but would have suffered the consequences.

People truly need amazingly little. If we all practice using just enough without wasting, the earth and our pocketbooks will be better off.

Hoarding is Harmful

As careful as we were not to waste, we did want to use what we had or give it away. Otherwise, it was just extra weight that we carried step after step after step after step.

When we stopped to resupply, we were tempted to buy a case of Snickers bars and a carton of every flavor of ice cream. But the Snickers would get squished and the ice cream would melt, so we bought only what we could eat immediately and what would pack well for a few days.

When we found ourselves with extra hand sanitizer and drink mixes, we passed them along to others in need.

Packing is great motivation to declutter. Whether for a short adventure or a permanent move, it’s the perfect time to evaluate what you have. If an item no longer fits your body or your needs, let it go to someone who will appreciate it. There’s no reason to make your load heavier than it needs to be, so free up that space in your pack for something else.

No Matter The Distance, Take One Step At A Time

Dick's PassOur longest day was 25 miles. We hiked uphill until we were exhausted, then hiked downhill and endured sore knees and toes. We started the morning in down jackets, spent the afternoon savoring small patches of shade, and spent the evening hiking through rain.

If we had started the day telling ourselves, “Just 25 more miles!” we would not have had the physical or mental stamina to continue. So, we broke the day into more manageable goals. “We’ll rest under the next tree,” we told ourselves. “We’ll stop for lunch in 10 minutes,” or, “We’ll take a break at the lake.”

We found small things to look forward to and keep ourselves going, and we remembered to savor the flat, shady stretches with the trees that smelled like chocolate.

Life isn’t all hard, and it isn’t all easy. It isn’t all happy, and it isn’t all sad. Take it one step and one day at a time, and you can accomplish anything.


*This post is less of a how-to than my previous hiking posts because this awesome atlas and the app say it all much better than I ever could. They’re straightforward, easy to use, and accurate. I have no affiliation with them–they’re just awesome and I’m grateful.

**My husband did bring his phone but only used it to check our location on GPS.

What life lessons did you learn this summer? Let me know in the comments below. 

For those interested, here’s an updated gear list. Don’t forget to Shop Like a Ninja:

  • Dick's LakeLightweight backpack– doubles as a day pack.
  • Tent– consider a 2-person tent for solo hiking or a 3-person tent for a couple. You’ll appreciate the extra space.
  • Sleeping bag and liner– this bag is awesome for stomach or side sleepers. The liner keeps you warmer as it keeps your bag clean.
  • Thermarest– I slept like a baby on this and couldn’t feel a single rock.
  • Camp stove– and 1-1.5 lbs/person/day of dehydrated food.
  • Hiking Poles– with quick-lock adjustment and cork handles.
  • Camera- for short trips use your phone on airplane mode.
  • Headlamp– with rechargeable batteries and a red light for night vision.
  • Notepad, book, cards, or other entertainment, optional.
  • Water Bottles and filter– these are lightweight and durable.
  • First aid kit- naproxen and antihistamine tablets, antibacterial gel, bacitracin, hydrocortisone, band-aids, and moleskin..
  • Repair kit- safety pins or sewing kit, string or fishing line, and duct tape.
  • Glasses- or extra pair of extended-wear contacts and tiny bottle of solution.
  • Earplugs– block out snoring tentmates or campground partiers.
  • Comb- and hair ties if needed.
  • Quick-dry towel– the true multitasker.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste dots– just chew for a few seconds and brush.
  • Toilet paper and trowel– bury your poop and pack out your paper.
  • Sun protection- hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, gloves, and lip balm with SPF.
  • Rain protection- jacket, pack liner or cover, dry bags.
  • Bug spray- DEET can melt plastic or nylon gear, so try this instead.
  • Shirt– quick-dry synthetic shirt.
  • Jacket- lightweight fleece or Ghost Whisperer depending on the season.
  • Pants– these are super-comfortable, quick-dry, and roll to become capris. Bring quick-dry shorts in summer.
  • Underwear– these are amazing, comfortable, and dry in no time.
  • Sports bra- try several to find what works best for your body and doesn’t rub on your pack straps.
  • Socks– Darn Toughs are life-changing and just as comfortable wet as dry–like a hug for your feet.
  • Trail Shoes– think trail runners, not heavy boots. This pair has phenomenal traction and a wide toe box.
  • Camp Shoes– durable, comfortable and lightweight.

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Comments 18

  1. Wow! That looks and sounds like an amazing trip.

    I’m glad I’m not alone in experiencing the phantom buzz! I have gotten myself to the point where I am comfortable leaving my phone behind for an evening or a weekend day, but I have yet to attempt anything nearly as bold as a 10-day hiatus. I can imagine it must have felt great by the end.

    “Life isn’t all hard, and it isn’t all easy. It isn’t all happy, and it isn’t all sad. Take it one step and one day at a time, and you can accomplish anything.” Love this!

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      Matt, it was a forced tech detox. There were no outlets and no service, so it would have been dead weight.
      We should both decide to try this in real life where it’s much more of a choice!
      Have a great weekend.

  2. There are an awful lot of important lessons here! The turning off technology lesson is important for so many reasons. I think focusing on one another is key too. I always try to put my phone away when my kids are around and there is time to talk – or when my husband and I go somewhere. The world won’t stop – but those people may not always be there, so be present with them! I guess that was my big lesson from summer too. One’s back to college and the other will be leaving next fall – time is limited, so making good use of it!

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      I’m sure your family really appreciates it too! There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to talk to someone who isn’t paying attention. You’re setting a wonderful example.

  3. We recently came back from a cruise and I was the same way. I didn’t miss my phone and definitely did not miss any emails. Isn’t amazing when you unplug from technology how the world continues to move on and you see how important those missed emails and phone calls that were suppose to be urgent really are.

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      Yes! So many can just be deleted. It actually inspired me to unsubscribe from a lot of them. If I hadn’t missed them or didn’t look forward to reading them, then they didn’t make the cut.
      It’s also humbling to realize how unimportant we are. The world doesn’t stop when we take a time out.
      I hope you had a fantastic cruise and got to relax!

  4. That’s a great story! Personal Finance lessons are everywhere because the principles of frugality (and economics and sanity, for that matter) obviously apply everywhere.
    The Tahoe Rim Trail is definitely on my to-do list. Probably more manageable than the PCT, which I would have to do in stages over multiple years.

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  5. What an incredible trip! I need to get better about turning off my phone. It’s been a terrible consequence of blogging. I’m on social media more than ever. But I do feel that it’s usually far more productive time than my personal social media accounts. This summer, I learned that maybe my side hustle isn’t worth it. I traded 7 weeks of freedom for a few thousand dollars of summer school. When I think of the traveling we could have done, I get a little queasy.

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      Penny- I loved your post. It sounds like you had the opportunity to rethink your values and move forward in a new direction. Yay!
      As for phones and social media, I’m trying to pare way back too. It’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole and only come up for air hours later.

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      1. I’m gonna hold you to that, Julie. My niece and her husband live in Tuscon (he’s a doctor too), and we’re hoping to get out there next year. Enjoy the Grand Canyon (damn I’m jealous). And please do a post about it with lots and lots of pictures.

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  6. Another great post on your adventures, Julie! Gotta say, I’m always a tad envious when I read them, but I’ll just live vicariously through your great posts until I get my opportunity.

    I need to do a tech detox. Just a few hours a day would be helpful (and I don’t mean just when I’m sleeping!). Thanks for sharing the fact that nothing disastrous happened when you didn’t have your phone available. 10 days is a long time!

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  7. This sounds like a really wonderful time. I prefer day hikes because I’ve never found a bag that fit my body in a way that didn’t cause deep bruising. So true that one step at a time and not every step is the same. We wouldn’t want every step to be the same either. Balance in experiences really makes a brain happy.

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      Day hikes are lovely. Moleskin under the straps and lightweight gear can help, but there’s also something lovely about a shower, your own bed, and the possibility of ice cream after a long hike that you just can’t get when you’re camping.
      You’re so right about balance and new experiences–not that it’s getting too chilly to hike, let me know if you have wintertime suggestions!

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